sternenschiff … BY KARSTEN MARTIN


Squirrel chasing a Green-haired Turtle (1656) taken from
Flora Sinensis at Bibliothèque Universtaire Moretus Plantin.
Author - Michael Boym.

c’mere you…

found - Japanese 45

Tool Box/JPS Team Lotus/1974

National Geographic, february 1983, Beirut, up from the rubble, photographs by Steve McCurry.

Can’t wait.

Paul Klee
Pastorale, 1927


The poetry of ancient Sumer
In the history of the world, poetry is a constant. Predating the invention of writing, humans have conveyed their stories in a way to make it attractive for the receiver. Once script had been invented, oral traditions continued to be expressed in a much more tangible way. We can still see remnants of this formerly oral custom in the usage of repetition in early poetry and prose. In time, this reiteration of phrases and words fell into misuse, because the medium no longer required it. Despite the changing winds of fashion, poetry has always retained its one purpose throughout all these millennia: to touch the heartstrings.
The earliest examples of literary verse are found in the Sumerian corpus of texts, nine generations – give or take a few – after the emergence of writing. Before this, manuscripts were limited to administrative notes and writing exercises such as lexical lists and vocabularies. Unlike our present-day society, where each artist makes sure to sign his or her work on the off chance he or she will be granted a fleeting moment of fame, Sumerian poetry and literature has mostly come to us by the hand of anonymous composers – barring the exceptions that confirm the rule. The oldest known name in the corpus is that of Enkheduanna, daughter of Sargon of Akkad.

Detail of a Sumerian tablet
Inanna and Gilgamesh
By far the two most well-known pieces of Sumerian literature are Inanna’s journey to the underworld and the epic of Gilgameš. The replication of parts of sentences, words or ideas is the characteristic feature in both these works. There are different ways the composers made use of this style attribute, and one of them is parallelism. The opening lines of Inanna’s journey portray this style very well:
“From the great heaven she set her mind on the great below. From the great heaven the goddess set her mind on the great below. From the great heaven Inanna set her mind on the great below. My mistress abandoned heaven, abandoned earth, and descended to the underworld. Inanna abandoned heaven, abandoned earth, and descended to the underworld.”
In Inanna’s admonishing her minister Ninšubur to make sure she does whatever she can to get the other Gods to help Inanna return from the realm of the dead do we see this parallelism again, as we do in the description of the Goddess’ attire. By far the most elaborate use of reiteration is the part where Inanna, after having passed through each of the seven gates of the netherworld (shedding a piece of clothing every time until she is left naked) and sitting down on her sister Ereškigala’s throne, faces the judges of the underworld.
“They looked at her — it was the look of death. They spoke to her — it was the speech of anger. They shouted at her — it was the shout of heavy guilt.”
Then, later on in the story, Inanna has the distinct pleasure of turning the judges’ behaviour on them. It’s a classic form of parallelism not only in the passage itself, but in the storyline as well. And, on an even larger scale, entire plot vehicles can be recurring features in Sumerian poetry: Gilgameš, accompanied by his friend Enkidu, also makes a trip to the netherworld, where the living really have no business going.

A beautiful poetic line we find in the first paragraph of this story:
“At that time, there was a single tree, a single ḫalub tree, a single tree, growing on the bank of the pure Euphrates, being watered by the Euphrates.”
As in Inanna’s tale, it’s this repetition that gives the Sumerian style such a distinctive aftertaste. In a different story, recounting Gilgameš’s battle with the giant Huwawa, there is another characteristic usage of reiteration: chiastic repetition. 
“The king set out from the city; from Kulaba Gilgameš went.”
This type of repetition can be compared to a ABBA rhyming scheme, only the final BA are variants of the first AB. It can occur in a single sentence; an entire paragraph, or even in a complete work of literature. It’s subtle and can be used to create tension in a tale. We know the king sets out from the city; but which king, and what city? This is then made clear to us immediately after, but suffice to say that the composer could’ve led us on for as long as he or she wanted to. 
It’s because of this cyclical, rhythmic nature that the Sumerian literary style is so distinctive and a pleasure to read. A poet or novelist these days would have immediately been written off as amateurish for being ‘tedious’, ‘monotonous’ or even ‘dull’, despite properly executed reiterations can be gripping. In the end, poetry is and will always be a matter of taste, but the Sumerians, even in their first tentative steps in the genre, have succeeded in embodying – perhaps even creating – the very nature of it. 

Morphine by Santiago Rusiñol, 1894

postcard from Cairo |2008|